Each year more parents choose homeschool for their children, many because they feel they can provide a better education than their child would receive in the local schools. If you’re one of those parents, congratulations! You’re about to embark on an exciting journey with your kindergartner.
Teaching a child at home can be overwhelming at first, especially when selecting a curriculum. The curriculum you choose can affect your child for years to come, in school and beyond.
Don’t panic. Once you’ve done your research about the many options available and you’ve decided what makes sense for your family, choosing a curriculum can be rewarding – and actually a lot of fun.
Should I Use a Formal Curriculum
When you’re ready to begin planning your first year teaching your young student, the first thing to consider is how you feel about education in the early childhood years. Some parents begin by selecting a formal kindergarten curriculum, with structured lessons and timelines.
Other families prefer to take an unschooling approach to kindergarten. These parents forego formal curriculum in favor an organic approach. Their child learns through daily life experiences like cooking, shopping, gardening, listening to stories, playing games and lots of time to play outdoors.
There is no single correct approach to education in the early childhood years, so to make your decision, think about what makes the most sense for your child and your family. Some children of kindergarten age are ready and eager to do formal schoolwork with direct instruction. Others are resistant to the very idea of sitting still for more than a few seconds and have no interest yet in formal academics.
Be open and flexible as you choose a curriculum for your child. This will help ensure that your child enjoys learning, and can put them on course for long term academic success.
How Much Time Should I Spend On School?
Parents planning out their first year of homeschooling may be surprised at how little time actually needs to be spent on academics each day during the elementary years. In the United States, teachers in public schools typically spent around two hours each day teaching English (reading, writing, phonics and spelling), about an hour teaching math, and half an hour each teaching science and social studies.
Many homeschool families find that since they’re able to target their instruction to their individual child not an entire class, they can accomplish the same amount of academic work in much less time, often only an hour or two a day.
What Should Kindergartners Learn?
Despite all of the differences between the standards in different states and the curriculum used by different districts and schools, there are many commonalities in what is typically taught to kindergartners in the United States.
Kindergarten math usually focuses on:
- Counting and recognizing numbers up to 100
- Solving simple addition and subtraction problems with numbers 0-10
- Recognizing shapes and describing the attributes of objects
- Comparing numbers
- Understanding concepts such as more and less, longer and shorter in comparing objects and quantities
Kindergarten math also focuses on collecting and comparing data, such as how many children are in the class or how many cats vs dogs in the neighborhood.
Literacy skills that are typical for kindergarten curriculum include:
- Learning to recognize and write all capital and lowercase letters
- Knowing the sounds that correspond to each letter
- Recognizing simple commonly seen words (e.g. the, is, I, me, was)
- Being able to re-tell and discuss stories that are read to them
At this age, children also begin to read simple books that have a consonant-vowel-consonant words (e.g. cat, dog, hit, pat).
In science and social studies there is diversity in what is commonly taught, but in social studies, a common topic is communities, including common community places and landmarks, community jobs, and learning about how communities meet people’s needs.
Kindergartners also learn about important national symbols such as the flag and Statue of Liberty, as well as about good citizenship such as listening, taking turns and sharing. At this age, children often also learn about the meaning and people behind federal holidays such as Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Jr Day, Presidents Day, and so on.
Science curriculum in kindergarten often focuses on topics such as what plants and animal need, and how the sun affects objects on the earth’s surface (e.g. a rock left in the sun will be warmed by the sun while a rock placed in the shade will be cooler). Other topics include finding ways to solve a problem by designing a tool, and observing the effect of forces (such as pushing and pulling) on objects. A great resource for parents who want to learn more about science education is to take a look at the Next Generation Science standards, which have been adopted in many places in the United States and are considered an excellent guide to science education.
Kindergarten Without Curriculum
In places where following the standards used in public schools is not required for homeschoolers, some parents take the approach that children learn best in natural and organic ways. This is particularly true in early grades, when standards for learning focus on very basic skills. At this age, children may learn through play and daily life if their parents fill their home with books provide their child with opportunities to learn.
Families who choose to forego a formal curriculum in the early years of school need tools that you probably have at home already – art supplies, toys for building and imaginative play, and lots and lots of excellent books. If you don’t already have your child signed up for a library card, this is the perfect time to do that too!
Choosing a Curriculum
On the other hand, if you think your child is ready for a formal curriculum, good news: the number of choices for homeschool families have absolutely exploded in recent years. Years ago when many fewer families were homeschooling, curriculum options aimed at homeschoolers were relatively few. Now that more families from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles have chosen to homeschool their children, there are curriculum options for every family and child.
Some parents prefer to create their own curriculum instead of purchasing pre-made curriculum. For example, if your family enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, you might choose to design your child’s schoolwork around these aspects of your daily life. For English, you could read your child books about nature, and ask them to write stories or poems about a camping trip.
For science, you could collect photos of plants and animals found on hikes in your local area. After learning about those plants and animals, create a family album of the photos and the information you’ve learned. For math, your child could count the number of animals they see on a hike, measure fish they caught or make a bar graph of the butterflies they see on a nature hike.
If your family loves sports, you could have your child read and write about a favorite sport or player, learn about sports that are played around the world for social studies, or count goals they kick in soccer, then collect and share the data across time for math.
The possibilities are endless.
For parents who choose to create their own curriculum, it’s important to ensure the the material covers each core subject area. Although in most states homeschoolers are not required to cover the material that is covered in public school, it is often helpful to have a sense of what other children are learning at the same age to ensure that your child is on track. Most states in the United States currently use a version of the common core state standards.
To find the specifics of how your state is implementing these standards (or if your state is not using them at all) you can find the standards for your specific state through Internet searches. This information is usually available online and written in easy to follow language.
To ensure that you’re meeting the requirements in your state, be sure to look up the homeschooling laws and requirements in your area, as these can vary a lot from state to state. In some states, anyone can homeschool by simply notifying their local educational oversight authority (like the school district). In other states, there may be testing requirements, while in other states there are may be many requirements such as a detailed curriculum plan, samples of schoolwork and additional assessments of student progress.
Religious or Secular Curriculum?
Most homeschooling families find it easier to purchase pre-made curriculum instead of creating their own. If this option seems like the best one for your family, the first decision you’ll want to make as you begin to narrow down the choices is whether to use religious or secular curriculum. Due to the popularity of homeschooling with religious families, a high percentage of the curriculum that is available is explicitly religious.
Be aware of the worldview presented in all curriculum you select for your child, even in areas where you might not expect religious perspective to be a factor, such a arithmetic or phonics programs. Even within the category of religious curriculum, families will want to carefully review any curriculum they are considering to make sure that the beliefs and worldview being presented in the curriculum are consistent with their own beliefs.
Detailed Plans, or Rough Guide?
Once you’ve decided on either religious or secular curriculum, take time to consider how much support you want from a curriculum. Some curriculum may consist of a list of books to read and activities to do with your child, or a set of worksheets to use.
For some families, this is ideal because they can then pick and choose the parts of the curriculum they want to use, and implement it in the ways that make the most sense to them. For example, with an English program that mostly lists books and follow up activities, a family can easily choose some activities or books and skip others and add their own books and activities.
Other families may prefer more structure and guidance to feel comfortable. For these families, an open-and-go comprehensive curriculum may be best. These curriculum options will often go as far as to give you a script that tells you exactly what to say and do to complete the lessons and activities with your child.
Some families find this too limiting and structured, but for other families, it’s reassuring. These curriculum options simplify school for parents who want the help. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. You’ll have to decide what is right for your family.
Subject by Subject, or All-In-One?
The choices don’t stop in homeschooling curriculum! If you decide to buy a formal curriculum, another decision to make is whether to have one curriculum that covers all academic areas, or separate curriculum for each subject area. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.
With an all-inclusive curriculum, there’s only one program to keep track of, and often the days are planned out to spread out the work for each subject in a sensible. This ensures that each day is balanced in how much there is to do.
Often, an all-in-one curriculum will also integrate different subject areas. Spelling words for the week may relate to the science topic that’s being studied, or math problems may relate to the book you’re reading the same week. It’s a way to make learning meaningful for your child by showing the ways that different parts of their schooling experience are interrelated.
However, for some children and families, this type of curriculum might not be a good fit. For example, maybe your child isn’t working on the same grade level in all subject areas. Some kindergarten students may be fluently reading well beyond their age level, but need a basic kindergarten level math curriculum. Other students might be gifted in math, tackling second grade math work in kindergarten, while still learning their letters and sounds like other kindergartners.
For these children, buying separate curriculum for each subject area allows you to pick and choose the levels that are best for your child. Since one of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to tailor your child’s education to their individual needs, it’s good to consider this when making your curriculum selections.
Another hybrid option that you could consider: instead of making all of your own curriculum, or buying curriculum program that covers all of the subject areas, consider purchasing curriculum for English and math and following your child’s interests in science and social studies.
Imagine your child is fascinated by African animals. You could read lots of books and do projects and activities about the animals of Africa for science, and learn about the people and geography of the area where these animals live for social studies. This can be a nice compromise between fully creating your own curriculum and only using pre-made curriculum. This option allows you to integrate your child’s interests into their learning while not taking on the task of fully creating their entire curriculum from scratch.
What’s Your Child’s Learning Style?
Another factor to consider when choosing a curriculum is what learning style best suits your child. Some children prefer hands on learning and projects, like art projects and science experiments and games. These children are best engaged with curriculum that teaches math through games, and integrates art and projects into English, science or social studies.
Other children prefer to read, write and do worksheets as their primary mode of learning, often because it can lead to a shorter school day. Most children in kindergarten prefer hands-on learning, but options are available for both types of learners.
Connecting to the Homeschool Community
When you’re first starting out in homeschooling and trying to decide what curriculum or schooling approach is right for you, it’s helpful to learn from others who have been in the same position. The homeschool community is full of families who love to support each other and share their experiences.
By seeking out other homeschool families, you can gain the perspectives of people who have first hand experience with a curriculum you’re considering. You may also find parents who have children with strengths and needs similar to your child, or you may find families with similar lifestyles, philosophies and beliefs to your family. You can learn a lot from their experiences!
Depending on what you are looking for and your circumstances, there are a variety of ways to get to know other homeschooling families. Active homeschooling communities are found in most areas in the United States. They may run co-ops, take homeschool classes together, or simply get together for park play dates.
By meeting up with local families, you can give your child the opportunity to meet potential friends in the homeschool community, and you can talk first hand with other parents about which curriculum (or lack thereof) worked best for their kindergarten children. Another great advantage to getting to know local homeschoolers is that another parent may have a copy of a curriculum you’re considering, so you can look over their copy to decide if it’s right for you.
In some places, there are even formal or informal homeschool curriculum swaps where you may be able to buy used curriculum that another family is no longer using. Curriculum can get expensive so this can be a great way to save money as you start off in homeschooling.
For families with a particular educational philosophy or religious perspective, and families with a special needs child, online homeschooling communities can be a valuable resource. Since they are not limited to a local community, these groups are able to pull together many people from very specific homeschool perspectives and experiences.
By connecting with these homeschool parents, you can often find someone who has similar needs, interests, concerns and preferences to yours. These online families may be able to give you perspective on how various curriculum choices worked for their family.
Beginning to homeschool your kindergarten student is a very exciting time. Choosing the curriculum and approach that’s right for you and your child can be daunting, but can also be fun. In fact, choosing curriculum for the following school year is often cited by homeschooling parents as one of the things they look forward to all year. By taking your time to make a careful decision and doing your research to find what is best for you, you’ll set yourself and your child on the path to a wonderful first year of homeschool together.